California Water Board to Soliciting Public comment on Permitting Suction Dredge Gold Mining – Your Comments Needed Now!
Suction dredge gold mining requires a gasoline powered vacuum to suck up river and stream bottoms, extract gold, and then release everything else back into the river.
This form of recreational gold mining puts public health at risk by mobilizing sediment and toxic metals including mercury left behind from historic gold mining. It also harms endangered salmon and other fish by damaging spawning beds critical to these species’ survival. Finally, the practice harms cultural resources of California’s Native American tribes that have suffered genocide at the hands of California gold miners from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.
A new state law requires dredge miners to demonstrate compliance with the federal Clean Water Act before they can get a permit from California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The California Water Board is soliciting public comments to determine how suction dredge gold mining should be regulated, or whether it should be allowed at all.
“Based on the water quality impacts of recreational suction dredging, we recommend that the existing moratorium be continued indefinitely, or that this activity be permanently prohibited. Given the current scientific understanding of this activity’s impacts, this is the only and the most cost-effective method to fully mitigate all significant water quality impacts.” – State Water Resources Control Board, March 11, 2013
Send the Water Board a comment letter by February 28th 2017.
Send a Comment Letter
Urge the Water Board to provide complete protection for California’s waterways – and the species and cultures that depend on clean water – from all impacts of this type of mining. The water board can do this by refusing to issue a permit for these activities.
For more details on the process please visit the State Water Board’s website on the issue and view the public notice.
Water Quality is Degraded by Dredge Mining
State Water Board (SWRCB) research has documented that the plume of water that comes out of suction dredges does not meet state water quality standards for mercury and other toxic metals in many rivers. The gold rush of the 19th century left tons of mercury buried deep in our rivers where it remains in its inert elemental form. Dredging has been shown to reintroduce this elemental mercury into the water column where it becomes bioactive methyl mercury – a dangerous toxin affecting wildlife and human health.
The State Water Resources Control Board has designated 178 water bodies in California as “impaired” due to mercury levels that exceed water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act. Fish consumption warnings are also common for fish taken from California’s rivers and streams where mining occurs. The twelve largest water supply reservoirs in California are already mercury impaired. Suction dredge mining upstream of these reservoirs exacerbates this pollution problem.
A Taxpayer Subsidized Hobby
Overwhelmingly, small scale mechanized gold mining is done recreationally as a hobby. A Fish and Wildlife Department survey from 2008 found that 78% of miners dredge recreationally. For years, permit fees failed to cover the costs of the permit program which means taxpayers were subsidizing pollution of their own water supply to the tune of $1.5 million dollars a year!
California’s Most Treasured Rivers at Risk
Not even California’s most treasured rivers that have been designated as Wild and Scenic by congress have been protected from this threat. Wild and Scenic rivers such as Salmon River in northern California and the American River upstream of Sacramento are being vacuumed up and strained through a sluice box ‘for fun,’ leaving deep gouges in the river bottoms and plumes of mercury laden sediments downstream.
At the very least, in areas were dredge mining may affect Tribal cultural or trust resources, Tribal governments must be consulted before developing site specific regulations and permits.